By on June 17, 2015

06 - 1976 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

I see many Corolla-based, NUMMI-built Novas in my junkyard travels, but the earlier rear-wheel-drive X-body Nova has become a fairly rare sight in self-service wrecking yards during the last decade or so. Other than a handful of factory-performance versions, 1970s Novas were disposable, cheap transportation appliances, and so the ones that haven’t been crushed by now tend to be nicely restored and/or drag racers. Still, I find a few; we’ve seen this ’77 two-door, this rare ’73 hatchback, this ’79 Oldsmobile Omega (one of GM’s many adventures in X-body badge engineering), and this ’78 Cadillac Seville Elegante (one of GM’s many adventures in Cadillac brand dilution) so far, and now we’ve got this ’76 in California.
05 - 1976 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

I’ve owned one of these cars (a 250-powered two-door purchased for $100, or maybe it was $50), and it was a total hooptie that wasn’t much fun to drive but always ran. You can make them dangerously quick with a small-block Chevy equipped with cheapo bolt-on performance parts, of course.

01 - 1976 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

This one was called “CHEVY RYDER,” or maybe it was owned by someone who called himself by that name. I’m guessing that Mr. CHEVY RYDER now drives the BONE-MERO.

07 - 1976 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

The engine is gone from this car, but we can assume that it had a badass hood scoop of some sort.

02 - 1976 Chevrolet Nova Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

It’s possible that CHEVY RYDER had a whole fleet of X-bodies and stripped the interior and powertrain out of this one before transplanting its parts into a nice one.

Apparently there is at least one of these cars in Israel.

The earlier version of the Nova was a much better automobile than O.J. Simpson.

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58 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1976 Chevrolet Nova...”

  • avatar


    How about Spirit of 76?

  • avatar

    “I’m guessing that Mr. CHEVY RYDER now drives the BONE-MERO.”

    Heh, that’s semi-clever. Intentional or not.

  • avatar

    Ha, I too bought one of these long ago, late eighties, early nineties for roughly $100-$200 with the 250( tap tap tap). It was a great hooptie but the best part was when I noticed the rocker switch located down to the left of the steering column. Flipping it activated a very LOUD siren, apparently the car had at one point in its life belonged to a volunteer fire fighter. Good times soon ensued scaring pedestrians and moving left lane squatters out of the way. The look on their faces when passed by a light blue Nova full of dumbass teenagers was priceless.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was in HS my Grandfather was a CB’er. So when I got his hand-me-down ’82 Subaru as my first car, it came with a nice CB radio setup. Which I quickly noticed had a PA speaker output. $10 later for a loudspeaker and much teenage hijinks ensued.

      One of my Great Aunts (really, she is a terrific lady, and a LARGE one) had a Nova of this vintage. Light blue and a hatchback. I think the hatchbacks were kinda rare?

  • avatar

    My first wife had a mid-70s 4 door Nova when we met…baby poop brown with a tan painted roof, inline six, auto, power steering and MANUAL brakes, no a/c, tan vinyl seats. It was a genuine POS and dogtracked like crazy, but it ran and ran and ran. It must have needed springs too, because it sat low enough to drag its belly over speed bumps. We were broke and it got her to work for about a year, before we could get something newer, with a/c. The 1990 Accord LX was a BIG step up.

    • 0 avatar

      As I recall, the most distinctive mechanical feature of these cars was the live rear axle, located by nothing except the leaf springs and a bolt. The bolt would shear off, sometimes before the car even left the factory, leaving the rear axle and rear tires to wander all over the place relative to the rear end of the car. It was common to drive behind one of these cars and see it crab-walking down the road as if the frame had been totaled and the subsequent bodywork done by a drunkard.

      • 0 avatar

        Nothing distinctive about that type of rear suspension design, billions of vehicles were produced that way and most current trucks still are.

        Yes if the center pin shears and the u-bolts aren’t tight it can allow the axle to shift. Not exactly a common occurrence. I highly doubt that the numbers of these that left the factory with one of the spring bolts sheared would need more than the fingers on one hand to count.

  • avatar

    My mother drove one of these, a ’76, bought in about ’77 with some 20k or so miles on it. She put 100,000+ miles on it. Nothing serious ever went wrong, with one dramatic exception: one day she was driving down the street and the right front wheel fell off! The axle spindle had broken. Fortunately she was driving at her usual 20 mph so no harm was done except to her schedule.

    Ours had a V-8, not sure if it was the 305 or the 350. I always thought it was the 305, but that had a reputation as a gutless motor and our Nova would really fly. It even had dual exhaust, and it seems like there were even dual catalysts. It is extremely unlikely the car had been modified, I wondered at the time if it had some special cop features. (I was once pulled over at >100 mph and somehow managed to avoid a ticket!)

    Silver exterior, bright red interior, bench seat, auto trans with column shifter.

    I bet if I got into a car like that today, I would think “what a piece of junk” but it served us faithfully. The 2 door hatchback was very functional and convenient. I wish someone made a car in that configuration today (that isn’t a micro car); not all of us need four door sedans.

  • avatar

    For those of you who weren’t born when these things ruled the earth, take a look at the profile. Look at the long hood and long trunk and think: “this was a COMPACT car? When the Citation came out to replace – but didn’t replace – the Nova it was almost heretical to the concept of American cars. Like most American cars of the day, the Nova needed the long hood to have at least one engine that overpowered the car and one that underpowered the car. The one that underpowered the car likely did so because of the long hood that added too much weight to the car. The long trunk was useful because Americans have so much stuff and because it had to have room for a full-size spare. If GM wants to compete in this day and age against cars that have some objective advantages one way to do it would be to offer a few vehicles with bigger trunks or hatches and promote that advantage. Each model won’t be a best seller, but adding trunk doesn’t cost much from an engineering standpoint. This is especially needed on GM models with the mild hybrid. It’s not that the powertrain is worthless, it’s that packaging it without changing the packaging devalues both the powertrain and the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Still room for two in the trunk when going to the Drive-ins.

    • 0 avatar

      “have at least one engine that overpowered the car and one that underpowered the car”

      HA! That sums up a lot of cars from that era. The ones with the underpowered engine option–invariably the corporate straight six–those you could open the hood and see the road around the engine… a lot of the road and almost enough room to climb in next to the engine to work on it.

  • avatar

    re the Jalopnik piece on MM’s Nova … in 1991 that thing was 15 years old. I had a ’76 Camaro in the early 90s, and at that time it already seemed like a complete relic. We had old cars when I was a kid, so it wasn’t like I was downgraded from anything more modern, and it STILL felt ancient. That was the worst year Camaro ever, IMO. It was heavy, 165 HP 350 4 barrel, the leaf springs BROKE at the axle and it rusted at the mention of moisture. Does a 2000 model-year GM product seem so dated and helpless today?

    • 0 avatar

      I DD an ’06 Pontiac G6 and it doesn’t feel nearly as dated as a 10 year old did 10 years ago. Cars have come a long way

    • 0 avatar

      I drove my friend’s 1995 Buick Century wagon the other day and it still drove like a solid tight newer car and went down the road in quiet smooth fashion. The 3100 idled as smooth a silk and the 4T60 shifted nice and snappy. In some ways this drive train feels better than some of today’s mid size 4 cylinder CVT or 9 speed setups. And this 1995 Century has 135K on the clock!

      • 0 avatar

        I’m pretty sure a 1995 Buick Century was dated feeling IN 1995, considering that car had soldiered on for 17 years with very little done to update it. The only people buying those cars were GM loyalists as they were uncompetitive 10 years prior. Sure, they’re like roaches, but were never modern.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve often thought the same thing. In 1987 I was a senior in high school. I had a 72 Plymouth Valiant, friends of mine had mid-70’s Novas and Camaros. Even though these cars were 15 years old or less, they sure seemed older. My friend’s mom bought a Olds Cutlass Supreme in 1988, one of the last rear drives in that body style. By 1991 or 1992, I remember thinking how old that car seemed. Today, a 2000 or 2005 car doesn’t seem that old. Hell, I drive a 2006 Sienna and it “fits” with the other cars in the parking lot. I think the automotive technology/advancements from the mid 80’s to late 90’s was one of the biggest jumps we have seen. I’m getting older, so that may be part of it too. Even though most of these older cars were simpler, there is no doubt cars are better today in just about every aspect (still hate the thin sheetmetal though).

      • 0 avatar

        I think the tide turned when fuel injection became “standard”. So the 80s/90s is when most “modern” cars came about. This is also when true compact cars from Japan caught on. Before that everything was a land yacht in comparison. Other then various power features (mirrors, windows, doors) and all kinds of tech like sat nav, touch screen audio, backup cam, most ’00s cars are fine in today’s world. Heck my newest car is an ’08, my other vehicles are an ’03 (DD) and an ’02!

  • avatar

    A black 1978 4 door 250 six Nova drove us to school every day throughout the early to mid 80’s. That damn car started up regardless if it was pouring rain, 20 below zero or 100 degrees outside and was as reliable as the sun. The body held up pretty well until the later 80’s and by the time his mom was done with that car it had racked up nearly 225K miles on the clock and still rode and drove. It’s amazing what some service and care can do for a car’s longevity. I thing that car made it well into the 90’s before it met it’s fate of the crusher.

  • avatar

    Today’s Rare Ebay Find, a GM bretheren (or distant cousin).

    1979 Cutlass 442! It’s automatic, it’s got Hurst-style paint and a broughamy interior, and it’s extremely ugly. And it has all the look of a hatchback, with the reduced functionality of a trunk. Truly a WTH when I see this.

    Why did GM sell the X and the A at the same time, when they look so similar in size? Do not understand.

    • 0 avatar

      Under “there are no questions for this item” I want to write “WHY?”

      This one runs the 4.3 per the emissions control tag. I feel like this car should have been in “No Country For Old Men”.

      • 0 avatar

        It would have been a good choice to include in that movie, I agree. Perhaps Jones could have it as his prized retirement reward, parked in the dusty garage.

        That movie is excellent. And spot on with car choices.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      It has the same profile as the Citation, but it is larger. This “442” is a variation of the downsized 1978 RWD intermediates (Malibu, Cutlass, Regal, etc). Despite the roofline, this is not a hatchback.

      • 0 avatar

        the Chevy version of the 1978 RWD intermediates was the Monte Carlo, not the Malibu, which was larger.

        • 0 avatar

          The Malibu was the intermediate sedan and wagon while the Monte Carlo was the intermediate personal luxury car riding on the exact same frame as the Malibu coupe of that generation. The Monte actually had a bit more overhand so it was larger at least on the outside and weighed a bit more. On the interior many dimensions were identical but a few varied by a fraction of an inch.

    • 0 avatar

      I just did a Picard-style facepalm when I saw this thing. Didn’t even think about it, it just happened. No idea such a thing existed, I was expecting something based on the Cutlass Supreme, wondering, “how bad could it be?”

    • 0 avatar

      The Salvation Army sells used cars?!?

    • 0 avatar

      That 442 is sweet!

      The X and the A weren’t that close to each other size wise, plus the A body offered more options (wagon, coupe, sedan, pickup, this thing) while the X offered only sedan and coupe (with or without hatch).

    • 0 avatar

      This sloped A-body was called the Cutlass Salon.

      • 0 avatar

        My first car was a ’78 example of this vintage (obtained in 1988), optioned about the same (no delay wipers or 442 package), but with a cloth bench seat versus the vinyl buckets; same 260 Olds V8 as the eBay car that seemed to produce less power than the 231 Buick V6 through the weak-sauce THM200 transmission, yet drank gas like a Rocket 455. Just a horribly neglected, clapped-out hooptie of a car (though free) from a chain-smoking great-aunt who had gone into a nursing facility that year after her husband passed of health issues; she passed soon after I acquired the car. Literally took a gallon of window cleaner and at least 25 rolls of paper towels to get the windows remotely close to my standards (even at 18 years-old). And let us not forget the 1.5 inches of cigarette ash which covered most of the floor, front and back. (Had to use a vacuum at my late uncle’s house, which his sister was preparing for sale, to get some of that ash up before my Mom and I took the car home. The uncle had recently purchased a 1980 Olds Delta 88 Royale Sedan which was in near mint condition, but which unfortunately had already been sold; my Dad, after seeing the Cutlass’ condition, wanted to offer the same $$$ + $200 on the spot, but my Mom stated (and I agreed) that it would royally rankle my aunt (the sister, not the chain-smoker, who was never one to be trifled with), so he dropped his plan.

        My dream “toy” would be a last-of-the-breed 1987 Supreme Brougham Sedan in showroom condition with every option on the build sheet, including the 305 V8 and 4-speed overdrive automatic, and either wire whitewalls or the classic Olds “Rallye” rims, like on the eBay example. Only mods I’d make would be a flash-to-pass mod from “,” an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a Delco CD stereo. Take that to an occasional Olds meet or other classic-car show, and sit next to said car with a cooler of various adult beverages at my side, while working on a case of skin cancer.

        Jack wrote a piece in praise of this model a couple years back — use Google search on this site, as I’m too lazy/drunk/other to do so at this point. ;-)

  • avatar

    I’m trying to figure out what exactly the cutout would have been for, then perhaps we can find a pic of this car online. The little clearance to the left may have been for a fuel rail on a high rise? I’m not totally fluent in hairy Chevies.

    The stripes appear stock. Maybe a “Rally” package?

    I love the bowtie blockout plates in the grill for optional parking lights.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    My step dad inherited his mom’s straight 6 ’76 Nova coupe from his mom after she passed in 1984. That meant the Land Ark was parked until I acquired it and fixed it up.

    We called the Nova “The LimeMobile” because it was lime green and we did not care for it. The color was completely faded with no clear coat left. It sagged in the back and looked a lot like the car in the first photo but with tires on the back. The tailpipe was right behind the rear tire and he always backed it into the curb when trying to back into the driveway so it was completely flat.

    The interior was just like every car he ever owned, completely worn out. The seats were torn to shreds with only the foam to sit on. It had a distinct smell that I can still vividly remember, especially in the hot summer. He drove that car until about 1993 when we got a new van and retired the Custom Cruiser to his daily duty. A family friend took it and drove it for a while. I don’t know what happened to it.

    There was a moment in time where it was considered that I would fix up the LimeMobile instead of the Land Ark. But in the early 90s, that style Nova wasn’t nearly as desirable as the Impala was. I feel like I dodged a bullet.

    I don’t miss that car, I don’t look for them when I look at cars online. It made no positive impression on me. But, man, that thing ALWAYS ran and never needed anything other than exhaust and suspension work. It would have to be considered unkillable, I think.

    Now, I am having heart palpitations over this car:

  • avatar

    My big bro special ordered a new 1976 from a dealer we knew. Coupe, 350 4V, F41 suspension, rally-wheels, buckets, tilt wheel, tach. Maybe the only fully loaded Nova ever built (haha). It was a nice car, was as fast as a Camaro and handled great. But, yeah, why do almost all of these dog-track? Chevy forgot how to locate an axle?

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing special about ordering a car like that, standard options that could be combined it was just an order. That was still the era when you ordered the car you wanted and the dealer had demos on the lot and only one or two versions of a given car for someone who had to have a car today. A special order is a COPO (Central Office Production Order) car, one that had things that were not on the order sheet or a combination that wasn’t allowed in the system even though it was possible to build it that way. So the dealer had to send in the request to the central office and have it approved. The build sheet would then designate that it was a COPO car so that it was OK to build in a non standard configuration.

      The reason that they and the F bodies of this era often dog track is because the two halves of the car are held together by 4 bolts and squishy rubber bushings. Those bushings fail and allows the whole mess to flex in the middle.

      • 0 avatar

        Must have been a COPO, his order was rejected once because they wanted the police/taxi radiator, brakes, trans cooler, which they said weren’t available on a coupe. But, waasn’t my car and was 30+ years ago.

        • 0 avatar

          If he could have waited one more year, you could order a 9C1 Nova in 2door coupe or 4 door sedan with the works – Motor Trend magazine had articles about the 9C1 Nova on performance and how to order using the COPO and RPO codes. But alas only the 250 in-line six or the 305 2bbl V/8 only, no 5.7 350 cid V/8.

  • avatar

    My ’76 w/305 ran fine until about 12,001 miles, at which point it developed a miss; turned out one cam lobe had worn down to nothing. “Sorry, you’re out of warranty”. I paid for cam replacement and sold the car. I don’t miss the days of throw-away cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Lots of those 305s had soft cams, including mine. Details.

      I grumpily changed it and later found out about a TSB. After much bitching, Chevy agreed to reimburse but demanded the old soft cam. Who the hell keeps a worthless cam around? The receipt for a new one wasn’t good enough.

      I’ve got lots of years left to never buy a GM product.

  • avatar

    Should anyone wish to save one, this is about as preserved as I think one might get in original, non-drag-raced grocery-getter form.

    A friend in high school was unsatisfied with his 396 Impala, and purchased a silver 76 (complete with bong in the trunk) at the salvage yard and transplanted the motor into it. Until it cracked the oil pan on a road crown (6-cylinder springs), it ran like a scalded cat.

  • avatar

    Im surprised no one has taken the wheels on the front yet. I would expect those to go rather quickly

    • 0 avatar

      I just looked at the pictures again, there’s only one wheel left. Which now begs the question, why only one?

      • 0 avatar

        The center of that wheel is pretty rusty so I don’t see it as desirable. As to why one maybe the owner kept the rears. The wrecking yard may have pulled the rears because they were good. The other front may be laying somewhere near the car because someone needed it out of the way to get what ever part they wanted. Or the one that is left didn’t actually hold air which is why they didn’t put it on the single tire rack.

  • avatar

    This was almost my first car; I was 16, my dad was driving me back from church in 1983, and the lot wasn’t open on Sunday, but the car was unlocked. Had a three on the tree, and was a tad overpriced. Almost regret not getting it, but not quite.

  • avatar
    Ogre Backwash

    Yellow and tan do not go together. Especially that yellow and that tan.

  • avatar

    When I started driving in the early 80’s these things were everywhere. If you needed cheap transportation they were the first choice. $100-$500 got you a running vehicle. Government auctions kept up the supply for Buy here, Pay here lots. The shear numbers produced, and minimal year to year changes, insured a steady supply of used parts for anyone with tools.
    I had one of this things cousins, an Omega. It wasn’t too horrible, but I definitely don’t miss it.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    These were much better than the ones that replaced them. On paper, not so but in reality, yes!

  • avatar
    ernesto vodka

    Well, in Chili do you find it for $764 (to repair) but it’s a price to pay when you fall in love

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